KINGSPORT — Gil Payne, Tennessee High’s baseball coach, breathed a sigh of relief and managed a smile as his team removed equipment from the dugout after two victories Saturday at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
The Vikings (10-0) won the Coca-Cola Classic with identical 9-8, eight-inning decisions over Dobyns-Bennett and Sullivan South.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the way we’ve come out and played this season with young kids,’’ Payne said.
“The Big 8 Conference is so balanced, the team that wins the championship probably will have four losses.
“The difference in these guys and last year’s team is that they hang out with each other,” the coach added. “They have good team chemistry.’’
Senior right-hander Dylan Crockett pitched the distance and also decided the game with his bat against South. He threw five shutout innings despite giving up a total of 13 hits.
Crockett drove in the tying and winning runs with a one-out single to center field in the top of the eighth.
“He throws around the plate all the time,’’ Payne said. “Dylan is a competitor.’’
Earlier in the day, THS beat D-B in a semifinal game by the same score, also in an extra inning. Catcher Austin Snyder’s solo homer in the top of the ninth provided the winning run.
The Vikings’ win overshadowed a grand slam by D-B’s Elijah Sutherland.
D-B coach Mike Ritz said the classic should serve as a barometer for the Big 8 race ahead.
“Tennessee High has a lot of off-speed pitching. Science Hill has the best arms. South plays outstanding defense. Boone’s top three pitchers are as good as anybody’s. Crockett has three strong arms returning,’’ he said.
South staged a miraculous comeback in a semifinal game to beat Science Hill for the first time in several years, 8-7. However, the game ended in controversy.
The Rebels struck for four runs in the home half of the seventh to overcome a 7-4 deficit.
With Reid Mathews on base, Tanner Smith smashed a two- run homer. Aaron St. Clair walked, Heath Haden doubled, Ryan Lockhart was walked intentionally, Ty Garvin’s walk forced in a run and Jackson Richardson’s sacrifice bunt drove in the winning run.
On the bunt, the ball appeared to strike Richardson’s helmet and drop into fair territory as it came off the back of the bat. Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards argued that it was a foul ball but the umpire disagreed.
“It was an awesome finish,’’ South coach Anthony Richardson said. “It was our first win over Science Hill in a long time. This was a great atmosphere. We could easily have laid down.’’
Zach Thompson had just put the Hilltoppers ahead 7-4 with a three-run homer.
Richardson said he learned quite a bit about his Rebels in the classic. “We got a chance to see all of our pitchers. I like the way these kids play. It’s going to be an exciting season.’’